Ralph Brennan’s Café B opened at 2700 Metairie Rd. a few weeks ago, in the space that was most recently Old Metairie Bistro. Chef Chris Montero helms the kitchen, and while Cafe B does not really seek to duplicate what Montero did at Bacco, things are off to a promising start.
Brennan oversaw a thorough redesign of the space. The claustrophobic bar that sat just off the entrance has been removed, and drinks are now available at a long bar that’s centered between the two main dining areas. The move opens up the room considerably, and also serves to better incorporate a portion of the dining room to the left of the entrance that previously felt isolated. The views from the floor to ceiling windows are, if not comparable to those at Ralph’s on the Park, pleasant.
The restaurant’s website describes the food as “elevated neighborhood cuisine,” and that’s as good a description as any for the combination of bistro and comfort food Montero’s kitchen puts out. The location has always been popular with a more mature clientele that flocked in for early dinners, but Brennan and Montero haven’t made concessions, and the menu has plenty to offer more adventurous palates.
Montero’s gulf shrimp and lobster ravioli are a reminder of his tenure at Brennan’s Italian restaurant in the French Quarter (now closed). The ravioli, available in full or half-sized orders, come with a champagne beurre blanc and choupique caviar. Buttermilk-fried P&J oysters come with braised leeks, house-cured bacon and fresh horseradish as an appetizer on the dinner menu http://www.cafeb.com/menus.php , and are predictably excellent. The Cajun pork duo is an appetizer available for both the dinner and recently-instituted lunch service. It’s a crispy fried boudin ball with braised pork belly, a buttermilk biscuit, pickled vegetables and a mustard sauce made with Abita Amber beer.
The main ingredients in the crawfish tomato bisque are sourced from Breaux Bridge, and the roasted tomatoes in the dish are local, too. It’s finished with cream and a bit of brandy. The chilled wedge salad won’t impress with creativity, but if that’s what you want out of a wedge salad, you have other problems. The wedge of iceberg lettuce is dressed with a buttermilk-black pepper dressing, crispy croutons made from the same brioche that comes to your table at the start of the meal, house-cured bacon, radishes and Maytag blue cheese. It’s cold, crisp, salty, and everything a wedge salad should be. The bacon is a bit much for me, but I’m in the minority, and the radishes were an excellent way to cut the richness of both the bacon and the blue cheese.
There’s an outstanding hanger steak with garlic fries on the dinner menu as well. The steak comes from Harris Ranch and the time I had it, the kitchen did an admirable job of cooking it to my requested temperature. A good steak that’s been cooked properly requires little else to make me happy, and at Café B they know it. The steak comes with thin-cut, crispy fries, roasted Brussels sprouts, and a perfectly made béarnaise sauce on the side. The sauce was good with the steak, but I think it was even better as a dipping sauce for the fries.
In keeping with the neighborhood feel of the place, there’s a kids menu with items like a double-stack grilled cheese sandwich, crispy fried shrimp with house-made ketchup and fries, and three-cheese macaroni and cheese topped with panko bread crumbs.
Desserts include a burgundy chocolate cake with a chocolate glaze, toasted hazelnuts, and a peanut butter anglaise. Bread pudding is made with house-made pecan pralines and topped with a bourbon toffee sauce, and there’s a Tahitian vanilla creme brulee that comes with a white chocolate cookie flavored with orange zest.
Brennan’s venture into Jefferson Parish was notable not only to residents of the surrounding Old Metairie neighborhood. Jefferson Parish council president John Young appeared at the restaurant recently to present Brennan with a certificate of merit. Personally, I would have gone with a big key, or possibly a Metry Playground (now named for Wally Pontiff) Blue Devils t-shirt, but Brennan seemed pleased with what he received.
If the reference to the playground wasn’t enough of a tip off, I will admit that I grew up just a short distance from Café B’s location. I don’t live there any longer, but I am very pleased to see a restaurateur of Brennan’s caliber come to the neighborhood. Café B’s website engages in a touch of hyperbole when it compares Metairie Road to 5th Avenue in New York, Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C., and the Champs-Élysées in Paris, but there are some excellent dining choices with Metairie Road addresses, and it’s nice to be able to add another to that list. Café B is open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday from 11 to 2:30, for dinner on Tuesday through Thursday from 5 to 9 and until 10 on Friday and Saturday. The restaurant stays open after 10 on Friday and Saturday with a reduced menu, and there are plans to add brunch. Call 934-4700 for more information or to make a reservation.